New York City recorded three more cases of Covid-19’s omicron variant, and Massachusetts reported its first variant infection in a young woman who had traveled out of state. At least 12 U.S. states are now reporting omicron cases.
Rio de Janeiro’s mayor said he’s canceling New Year’s Eve celebrations, the latest case of the variant putting a damper on the holiday season. Omicron cases linked to a corporate Christmas party in Oslo may rise to as many as 100, a Norwegian broadcaster reported.
The U.K. will require all travelers to take a pre-flight Covid-19 test within 48 hours prior to their flight -- regardless of their vaccine status. France tightened testing requirements for travelers from outside the European Union.
Angela Merkel, in her last podcast as chancellor, pleaded with people in Germany to take the virus seriously and get vaccinated, saying the country is facing a “very grave” challenge.
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Australia to Start Child Vaccinations (7:35 a.m. HK)
Australia will begin vaccinating young children starting early next year once authorities receive final approvals in the coming weeks.
Australia’s pharmaceutical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has provisionally approved a one-third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine for children aged 5-11 years, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement Sunday. Subject to final approvals, the authorities will begin vaccinations starting Jan. 10, he said.
Omicron Spreads in U.S. (5:08 p.m. NY)
The omicron variant continues to spread in the U.S., with three more cases reported in New York City and one in Massachusetts on Saturday.
The new cases in New York, which bring the state’s total to eight, don’t appear to be connected to a large anime conference in Manhattan, where a Minnesota resident appears to have been infected, Governor Kathy Hochul said in a press release on Saturday.
Massachusetts reported a case in a fully vaccinated woman in her 20s who had traveled out of state, the Department of Public Health said in a statement. She “has experienced mild disease, and did not require hospitalization,” the department said.
At least 12 U.S. states have reported infections from the variant. Georgia said it’s tracing contacts of a resident who had traveled to South Africa, then spent two days in Georgia before going to New Jersey, where she was diagnosed.
The woman is the only U.S. case who is reported to have been hospitalized. She sought care at a New Jersey emergency department after experiencing “moderate” symptoms, Governor Phil Murphy said in press release on Friday. The other states include California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Utah.
Ex-Dutch Queen Tests Positive (4:03 p.m. NY)
Princess Beatrix, the former Dutch queen, has tested positive for Covid-19 with “mild cold symptoms,” the Royal House of the Netherlands said in a statement. Beatrix, 83, who abdicated in 2013, is recovering in isolation at home.
Romania and Chile Report Omicron Infections (3:24 p.m. NY)
The Romanian health ministry said two recent travelers to South Africa tested positive for the variant. Neither person is symptomatic.
Chile’s first case was a foreign resident who had traveled recently from Ghana, the Valparaiso regional secretariat of the health ministry said in a statement on Twitter. The patient had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Health authorities in Chile will test other passengers seated near the first patient on his flight. A close contact of the patient has been quarantined with family.
Europeans Protest Tightening Curbs (2:45 p.m. NY)
Protests broke out in several European cities against tightening Covid-19 rules, including 40,000 people in Vienna by a police estimate despite a nationwide lockdown.
In the Dutch city of Utrecht, marchers protested a partial lockdown, in which most public venues must close at 5 p.m., the Associated Press reported. Violent clashes broke out two weeks ago in Covid-related protests in Rotterdam.
About 30 protesters carrying torches demonstrated Friday night at the regional health minister’s home in the eastern German state of Saxony, prompting condemnation and comparisons to the Nazi era by her Social Democratic Party, the DPA newswire reported.
U.K. Requires Pre-Arrival Tests (2:09 p.m. NY)
The U.K. will require all travelers to take a pre-flight Covid-19 test within 48 hours prior to their flight -- regardless of their vaccine status -- as the government seeks to stem the spread of the omicron variant, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News.
The measure will be temporary and be reviewed as the omicron outbreak develops, he said. More than 100 people in the U.K. have been identified with the new variant, which is rapidly spreading across the globe.
The new rules go into effect on Dec. 7.
Portugal Reports Surge in Cases (10:33 a.m. NY)
Portugal reported 5,649 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, the most daily cases since February though just one third of the more than 16,000 cases at a January peak. Portugal is administering third vaccine doses to people 65 and older and some groups such as health-care workers.
Infectious Oslo Christmas Party (10:08 a.m. NY)
Cases of the omicron variant in the Norwegian capital linked to a Christmas party may rise to as many as 100, public broadcaster NRK reported. Everyone who attended the event held by renewable power producer Scatec ASA on Nov. 26 are being treated as if they have the virus, the broadcaster quoted Line Vold, a department director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, as saying.
Rio de Janeiro Calls Off New Year’s Celebration (10:02 a.m. NY)
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said he’ll cancel plans for New Year’s Eve celebrations after Brazil reported its first omicron cases.
“We respect science,” Paes said on Twitter on Saturday. “The city council says it can go ahead. The state’s says no. So it can’t. We will thus cancel the official New Year’s Eve celebration in Rio.”
France Tightens Testing Timeline for Non-EU Travelers (6:45 a.m. NY)
The French government announced details of tougher testing requirements for visitors from outside the EU. From Saturday, anyone coming from a non-European country, whether or not they are vaccinated, must show a negative antigen test less than 24 hours old, or a negative PCR test less than 48 hours old.
Unvaccinated EU visitors need a negative antigen or PCR test less than 24 hours old to enter France.
Iran Cases Slow (6:23 a.m. NY)
Iran reported 2,157 new Covid-19 cases over the last 24 hours, its lowest case count since September last year. The daily death toll fell to the lowest in more than eight months at 58, the latest health ministry data showed.
Merkel’s Last Word (6:08 a.m. NY)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged unvaccinated Germans to come forward and get shots, warning the country faced difficult weeks ahead as deaths and hospitalizations from coronavirus rise, leading to “intensive-care wards filled beyond capacity.”
“Go and get vaccinated,” Merkel said in her last weekly podcast as chancellor. “Whether it’s your first vaccination or a booster, every vaccination helps.”
Swiss Airline Executive’s Worries (6:30 p.m. HK)
Dieter Vranckx, chief executive officer of Swiss International Air Lines, says the Swiss government’s decision to impose -- and then revoke -- quarantine restrictions on foreign travelers has been a “catastrophe” for the airline and Swiss tourism.
“Anyone who cancels their ski holiday in Zermatt or St. Moritz is looking for another offer,” Vranckx told the newspaper Schweiz am Wochenende. “These tourists are not coming back this winter, even if the quarantine no longer applies.”
Deaths Reach Record in Russia (6:09 p.m. HK)
Russia reported 32,974 new cases in the past day and 1,215 deaths, according to the government’s task force. The seven-day average for fatalities has been declining for the past 11 days after reaching a record on Nov. 19.
Official statistics, published with a lag, put the toll much higher. Russia suffered 74,839 deaths associated with the virus in October, the most deaths of the Covid-19 pandemic and a 47% increase over the previous monthly high in July, according to Federal Statistics Service data published late Friday.
A demographer says the country is on track to have the deadliest year since World War II. Russia has had over 575,000 deaths linked to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Link to the Common Cold (5:30 p.m. HK)
The omicron variant is likely to have picked up genetic material from another virus that causes the common cold in humans, the Washington Post reported, citing a preliminary study by researchers from Nference, a U.S. firm that analyzes biomedical information.
The researchers found a snippet of genetic code from the omicron variant that is also present in a virus that can bring about a cold, a link undetected in other coronavirus strains.
Cases in Finland (5:28 p.m. HK)
A total of seven omicron cases have been confirmed in Finland, with all infections so far linked to the same chain of infection, according to a statement from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
Home-Working Urged in U.K. (4:40 p.m. HK)
The U.K. government is being urged by advisers to tell people to work from home as cases of the omicron variant surge, The Guardian newspaper reports. Ministers are being warned to act now to avoid a significant wave of infections.
A technical briefing from the U.K. Health Security Agency found that 12 of the 22 known omicron cases in England up to Nov. 30 were in fully vaccinated people, suggesting a potential ability to evade vaccines, according to the I newspaper. The booster will be opened out to more groups by Dec. 13, the NHS said but the timetable means that most under-40s will have to wait until after Christmas, the paper said.
To prioritize vaccinations, doctors have been told to delay routine health checks for older people and new patients, and to cut the number of medication reviews with the most vulnerable getting priority, according to the I.
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